In June, Coles Chief Executive John Fletcher went to bat for his CIO and the company's IT team via a letter to the editor after a comment piece appeared in The Australian Financial Review, which mooted that due diligence briefings had revealed "allegations of IT cost overruns and implementation delays which are said to be threatening the transformation of Coles' supply chain . . ." In a timely interview, Fletcher talks with CIO magazine's Beverley Head about the company's IT and his take on the controversy that arose during the takeover.
Coles is an iconic Australian company and one that's always under scrutiny, so media commentary, positive or otherwise, comes with the territory
John Fletcher:I think those reports have been a bit mischievous. We've made no secret of the fact that we have brought forward some of our transformation initiatives and pushed back others. These have been conscious business decisions based on what was best for Coles Group. It wasn't because some transformation initiatives weren't ready to roll, or because we were struggling with implementation. And it certainly wasn't because of any failure of IT to deliver their part of transformation — far from it.
Your letter to the editor in response suggested a very close link between IT and the business. There appears to be no culture of blame at Coles — rather a tightly integrated team approach to developing information systems. How has this been arrived at?
Coles is an iconic Australian company and one that's always under scrutiny, so media commentary, positive or otherwise, comes with the territory. However, with the specific story you mention [The Australian Financial Review, "Investors shudder at Coles IT bungles" June 7] I did feel it was important to correct on the record what I felt was inaccurate and unfair reporting about our IT team's performance.
How would you describe your information systems at present?
When I came to Coles we were dealing with a maze of disparate systems, which was mostly a legacy of the way the company had grown over time through mergers and acquisitions. Since then we've massively reengineered our IT platforms and are ready to reap substantial business benefits as a result.
To what extent does IT influence Coles's business strategy — to what extent is IT an enabler of change?
IT enables the business strategy. We are fortunate to have a team that is focused on how to support the business in achieving the strategy. This is possible because IT has a seat at the table — [CIO] Peter [Mahler] is on the executive team and reports directly to me.
How does a fast moving enterprise cope with the nexus that exists between developing new applications for current strategy, while maintaining sufficient agility to be able to cope with any changes that are required by rapidly shifting business conditions?
There's no denying that we embarked on a massive transformation program, and I think such programs are always tweaked and refined as the business requires. Over the course of our transformation program, we have brought some initiatives forward, and pushed other initiatives back where it made business sense to do so. This does require a degree of flexible thinking by a management team, and I think it's been a feature of our team that we've been able to focus on what's best for the business when these sort of calls are made.